Sunday, June 2, 2013

Creating a Mental Map

The Atlantic Cities has an interesting article on how our brains create mental maps. Scientists have known for a while that some neurons specialize in places, but they haven't known how we create our mental maps.
Until now, scientists believed our cognitive maps were primarily built using two kinds of cues: external visual landmarks (the 7-Eleven across the street, the mountains on the horizon), and our internal sense of motion (how fast we move, generating an awareness of distance). But of course other kinds of sensory stimuli can also connect us to place (or confuse us about where we are).
Thanks to experiments on rats, scientists are starting to show that we have more than one useful sense when it comes to finding our way through our environment (which only comes as a surprise to human beings, who tend to overvalue visual cues).
Your brain actually goes from living in the present to anticipating the future (try that, Google Maps!). "We believe this amazingly complex set of things – environmental landmarks, our self-motion, brain rhythms, smells and textures – all of that is coming together to tell us what we should do next in space," Mehta says.
The article connects the research to urban planning, but the research also has interesting things to say about how using a GPS to navigate everywhere impoverishes your mental maps.

1 comment:

Karen B said...

We have only begun to scratch the surface of understanding the intricacies of how the mind does all that it does. I fully expect great guilt and sorrow by people of decency as we learn that many who have been written off as 'in vegetative state' have amazing cognition, but the ability to communicate that to others has failed them.